Seven MPs have written to The Guardian expressing “extreme concern” at alleged victimisation of trade union reps at Brixton’s Ritzy Cinema.
They include local MP Helen Hayes (Lab, Dulwich & West Norwood) and shadow chancellor John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington).
Workers from the Picturehouse chain that runs the Ritzy and other cinemas where staff are campaigning for the living wage and improved conditions and trade union rights will protest outside the Ritzy today from 4pm to 6pm.
They and supporters throughout the industry are calling for a boycott of the Picturehouse chain.
Another strike by BECTU members is planned for 7 July,
The MPs’ letter says that members of the cinema union BECTU have been striking for basic workplace rights: the living wage, union recognition, full company sick pay and maternity/paternity pay.
They say that “any suspensions or sackings intended to intimidate trade union members would be a matter of deep concern for the whole labour movement.
“No trade unionist or Labour party member can tolerate the deliberate intimidation of trade union activists for pursuing their legitimate business.
“We urge Picturehouse to withdraw any sacking and suspension of trade union reps and negotiate with their staff.”
Three BECTU reps at the Ritzy were sacked in June. BECTU says they were dismissed for trade union activity. A fourth rep received a final written warning.
BECTU, a section of the 140,000-strong Prospect trade union, has warned that management’s action could escalate an already entrenched dispute.
Its said the reps were dismissed as a result of an email sent to union members reporting discussions at a union meeting.
Picturehouse workers have been campaigning to be paid a living wage since a 2007 pay dispute when workers at the Ritzy took successful action to lift pay rates above the then minimum wage.
In 2014, the Living Staff, Living Wage campaign was launched and focused achieving the Living Wage as the baseline for pay at the Ritzy.
Thirteen strikes between April and September 2016 led to a pay increase of 26%. But Ritzy pay rates are still below the Living Wage.
More than 50 strikes have been held since September 2016 and workers at Picturehouse Central, Hackney Picturehouse, Crouch End Picturehouse, East Dulwich Picturehouse, Brighton’s Duke of York’s as well as the Ritzy have taken part.
BECTU says the Picturehouse group, owned by cinema giant Cineworld, can afford to pay the Living Wage.
The Living Wage Foundation sets rates each November. The current ones are £9.75 an hour in London and £8.45 outside London.
Picturehouse staff in London, where living costs continue to soar, are paid £9.10 an hour at the Ritzy and £9.05 an hour at other venues. Picturehouse’s regional hourly rate is £8.18.
In 2015 Cineworld posted profits of £83.8million. Cineworld CEO, Mooky Greidinger paid himself £1.2million in 2015, or £575 an hour. In 2016, the CEO’s annual pay rose to £2.5million.
Management has consistently refused to negotiate on union claims.
Gerry Morrissey, head of BECTU, said: “Our reps across Picturehouse have been fighting for fair pay and for dignity at work. Our first step in supporting our reps will be to launch Employment Tribunal claims.
“We’ve met with stone-walling from a management which claims to be community-minded but which has refused to negotiate at every turn, even rejecting an approach from ACAS, the government’s conciliation service.”
Picturehouse now falls behind competitors, Curzon Cinemas, which adopted the Living Wage in 2014 after a BECTU campaign.
More than 40 MPs have signed a parliamentary early day motion tabled by Helen Hayes which cals on Picturehouse to pay its staff the living wage.
Full list of MP signing Guardian letter
Marsha de Cordova, Lab, Battersea; Emma Hardy, Lab, Hull West & Hessle; John McDonnell MP, Lab, Hayes & Harlington; Helen Hayes, Lab, Dulwich & West Norwood; David Drew, Lab, Stroud; Catherine West, Lab, Hornsey and Wood Green; and Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Lab, Brighton Kemptown.